The South Asia Channel

Bangladesh: Jamaat Chief Sentenced to Death; Karzai Reacts Positively to Obama Speech; Musharraf Petition Dismissed

Bonus Read: "Of Democratic Systems and Processes," Alyssa Ayres (CFR).


Bangladesh: Jamaat Chief, Indian separatist leader given death sentences 

A Chittagong court has given death sentences to 14 people involved in a 2004 arms smuggling case, including Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and Paresh Baruah, a separatist leader in the United Liberation Front of Assam [ULFA] (AFP, Daily Star, NDTV, Times of India). Judge Mojibur Rehman announced the verdict on Thursday under the Special Powers Act of 1974, sentencing the accused for attempting to transport ten truckloads of firearms to ULFA hideouts in northeastern India, thus far the largest seizure of arms in Bangladesh. The cargo included 1,500 boxes of submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, submachine carbines, Chinese pistols, rocket launchers, 27,000 grenades, and 11.41 million bullets. While nine of the accused, including a former intelligence chief, are in custody, Baruah and former secretary Nurul Amin were tried in absentia.

Andhra assembly rejects Telangana bill, embarrasses central government

The Andhra Pradesh Assembly rejected a bill on Thursday that would have created a new state of Telangana. Members of the assembly, dominated by representatives from non-Telangana regions of the state, stormed the well of the house during a voice vote, rejecting the central government-drafted AP Reorganization Bill in under two minutes (The Hindu, Times of India, NDTV). Issues of contention over the formation of a new state involve sharing of water and resources. The rejected bill, with over 9,000 proposed changes, will now be sent to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee for consideration. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said rejection of the bill did not "mean anything" as it was only sent to the state assembly for comments and that the government was committed to passing a bill to create a new state when the final session of the lower house resumes on Feb. 5. Telangana Rashtra Samiti party leader K. Chandrashekhar reiterated Singh's comments and promised the creation of a new state by Feb. 15 (NDTV).

Fire exchanged along Line of Control

Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire along the Line of Control on Wednesday by firing small arms on Indian forward posts in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district (Indian Express, Economic Times, DNA India). The action drew retaliation fire from Indian border guards, an exchange that lasted five minutes. An Indian defense relations officer said there was no damage or casualties on the Indian side. Earlier this week, Indian media reported that Pakistani troops fired across the Line of Control for three hours on Sunday, India's 65th Republic Day (Deccan Chronicle, Business Standard, Times of India, The Hindu). It was the first ceasefire violation in Kashmir since talks between India and Pakistan in December 2013. 

U.S. Fed announcement knocks Indian market to two-month low

The Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex slipped to a two-month low of 20,498.25 on Thursday, as fears of capital outflows from emerging markets grew following the U.S. Federal Reserve's announcement that it would reduce its massive bond-buying program (The Hindu, Economic Times, Business Standard). The value of the rupee also fell, weighed by selling in emerging market currencies (WSJ). The sell-off was also partially due to the expiry of monthly equity derivatives, traders said. 

In an attempt to allay the fears of global investors, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Thursday that India offers a stable and non-adversarial tax regime, as well as a fair and just dispute re-dressal mechanism (Economic Times). Meanwhile, India Ratings and Research, an arm of the global credit rating agency Fitch Ratings, said that stressed assets of Indian banks, including bad and restructured loans, are likely to increase to 14 percent of total loans by March 2015 from 9 percent in March 2013 (Mint). 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson


Karzai reacts positively to SOTU, other officials not so sure 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed President Obama's remarks about Washington's continued commitment to Afghanistan's future in his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, as well as his omission of any deadlines related to the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] (AP, RFE/RL). In a statement released by the presidential palace on Wednesday, Karzai said Obama's comments were "beneficial for bilateral relations," and that "both countries should work patiently" on finalizing the security pact that will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in the country once the NATO combat mission ends in December (Pajhwok). However, Karzai also reiterated his stance that "a substantive peace drive" is a basic condition for signing the security pact, adding that the "time had come to put an end to negative propaganda against Afghanistan."

But while Karzai viewed Obama's speech positively, several other Afghan officials seemed disappointed that he had not announced the complete withdrawal of foreign troops. Speaking to Voice of America, former Afghan prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai said he didn't think part of the international force should be left behind to train Afghan soldiers, a sentiment shared by Ghairat Baheer, a spokesman for an Afghan insurgent group, who said U.S. forces should withdraw "completely and unconditionally" (VOA). Maulana Shhzada Shahid, a spokesman for Afghanistan's High Peace Council, was a little more circumspect, arguing that the reconciliation process with the Taliban should be restarted before coalition forces depart.

Hagel: BSA needs to be signed soon 

Though President Obama didn't set any new deadlines for signing the BSA in his speech, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters late on Wednesday night that the United States and its allies cannot continue to put off decisions about a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan much longer. According to Reuters, Hagel noted that: "You can't just keep deferring and deferring, because at some point the realities of planning and budgeting and all that is required collides" (Reuters). To help address this uncertainty, American and NATO military planners are drawing up plans to "deploy a force this summer that is tailored to assume a training mission in 2015 but is also small enough to withdraw if no deal for an enduring presence is reached" (NYT). There are currently 36,500 U.S. troops and 19,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan, numbers that are expected to shrink to, at most, 8,000 and 4,000 respectively at the end of the year. Bonus read: "The mammoth military task of leaving Afghanistan," Dominic Bailey (BBC).

New SIGAR report suggests U.S. money is being misspent 

While there seemed to be a bit of a thawing in the tensions between Washington and Kabul over the BSA with Karzai's remarks, that may change on Thursday when the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) releases a new report showing that none of Afghanistan's 16 ministries can be trusted with billions of dollars in U.S. aid. According to the New York Times, which received an advanced copy of the report, SIGAR highlights the dire findings by two global auditing firms that were hired "three years ago to determine whether Afghanistan could be trusted to safeguard the money" (NYT). The report criticizes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for continuing to provide taxpayer money to a government known for corruption, but noted that it "was simply following a policy set by senior officials in the Obama administration, and that direct aid payments to the Afghan government would probably continue no matter what problems were found."

USAID, which the Times' Matthew Rosenberg notes "has grown accustomed to harsh reports on its work in Afghanistan," responded to the story saying that it shows no specific instances of fraud. Rosenberg added that: "The inspector general's report is likely to increase tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bristled for years at what he says is an orchestrated campaign by President Obama's administration to undermine his government with embarrassing revelations and leaks."

New satellite will help digitize Afghanistan 

Eurelsat Communications, one of the world's leading satellite operators, and Afghanistan's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday that will enable the country to use satellite resources to enhance its national broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure, as well as its international connectivity (TOLO News, WSJ). Under the agreement, Eutelsat will deploy AFGHANSAT1 in February, marking Afghanistan's entry into the commercial satellite business; the satellite will be in orbit for five years. In addition to providing national coverage to Afghanistan, the satellite will also provide "extensive reach" to Central Asia and the Middle East. 


Musharraf's petition dismissed by Supreme Court

Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's review petition against the court's 2009 decision that his declaration of emergency rule in 2007 was unconstitutional on Thursday, saying that the time to file an appeal had lapsed (Dawn, ET). Akram Sheikh, the public prosecutor in the high treason case, also argued that the ex-military leader's medical report was an "unprofessional" "piece of paper," noting that Musharraf's test results and ECG had not been included; Musharraf was rushed to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi on Jan. 2 with chest pains. Sheikh went on to say that if "Musharraf cannot make a 15-minute journey to the court, how would it be possible for him to make an 18-hour journey to America for treatment," something Musharraf's doctors have been advocating.

Siddiqui says "no prerequisites" for talks

Shortly after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday that he had created a four-member committee to conduct peace talks with the country's Taliban militants, Irfan Siddiqui, one of the committee members, addressed the press to expand on Sharif's decision (ET). Siddiqui suggested that the "Taliban should also form a committee or similar body for talks," but noted that this was not a prerequisite. Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, he added: "There are no prerequisites for talks and there is no guarantee for anything because we don't want to start talks with ‘ifs' and ‘buts.'" However, he did say that the committee wants to start to reconciliation process soon since the country's security situation is serious. 

"Packing Pakistan"

David Greg Harth, an interactive visual artist from New York, traveled to Karachi in 2014 after meeting a student from the port city and set up an exhibit at the T2F gallery called "Packing Pakistan" (Dawn). In an effort to engage with the audience, Harth invited them to bring memorabilia from the city that he could pack into a suitcase and take home. Harth said he "expected nothing" but received a number of items, including coins, paintings, and prayer mats. Once he's back in the United States, Harth intends to compile a book of photographs of the objects and the meanings they hold for each person. He said it was important for him to go to Karachi and interact with the people on a local level because in conflicts or disagreements between countries over politics, religion, etc., a major problem is that there is no dialogue.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.